Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted to the Committee by Alistair J MacDonald BEng CEng MIEE


  1.  I am a 39 year old graduate engineer working as a manager with UKAEA at Dounreay. I have lived in Caithness since 1973 other that a period at University. I started work at Dounreay in 1987 and have carried out a wide range of jobs at the facility. This evidence is given—not as a representative of UKAEA—but as an individual living in Caithness.

  2.  I am married and we have two of a family—one is currently studying at college out with the area and is unlikely to come back to Caithness due to a lack of employment in her chosen career. The younger one is currently in primary school.

(Specifically for the Caithness region) the future job prospects for people currently employed at the plant when it is finally decommissioned

  3.  Future job prospects are limited because there is very little other professional employment in Caithness. A significant amount of professional employment is directly related to supporting Dounreay. There are very little alternative opportunities for staff at Dounreay to seek alternative careers or employment while being able to remain in the area.

  4.  Currently it is very difficult to encourage professional people to come to Caithness. This is going to create a longer term problem. If we cannot secure staff such as dentists, doctors, medical consultants and clergy to come to Caithness then our community infrastructure will slowly crumble. I believe that work needs to be carried out to understand this situation and take positive action to prevent this escalating.

  5.  A significant amount (25%) of employment in the Highland Region is in local government. However, over recent years there has been a move to carry out more and more local government services centrally in Inverness. While this no doubt increases efficiency in the short term it could be that over the longer term this is to the detriment of the whole of the Highlands—is Inverness thriving at the expense of the outlying areas? Positive action needs to be taken to correct this.

  6.  The local enterprise company—Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise (CASE)—is the organisation charged with the development of business and employment in our area. They have done some good work as they encourage training and development and support specific proposals made by applicants for new business ideas and respond to market demands. The fact that business parks are now constructed in Wick and Thurso is positive as this is helping to create the infrastructure for long term growth. I do wonder though is this to the detriment of the town centres as there are many buildings lying in disrepair in both towns that could be developed and used for business purposes which would also enhancing the towns.

  7.  Over the last few years CASE has been putting a lot of emphasis on making sure that local (and not so local) businesses benefit from the money that is being spent on decommissioning Dounreay. While this is commendable, and CASE may be able to help better equip local businesses benefit from Dounreay in the short term, I think that the emphasis of CASE should increasingly be more on the longer term and focusing on the development of our area as decommissioning progresses.

  8.  Within CASE there is a department called the Decommissioning Task Force. There is little visible output from this department which has been set up to look at the longer term strategic issues associate with the decommissioning of Dounreay. Perhaps this department needs more resource and staff to be of benefit. A Strategy document (undated) is available and while there are a lot of good points made in that document there is comparatively little emphasis put on attracting inward investment or looking forward to the situation once expenditure at Dounreay is reduced.

  9.  Much is made of the future Decommissioning Market and a lot of effort is being put into getting Caithness ready to capitalise on the large decommissioning market. While this is positive, especially if it attracts or levers European finance, it should be remembered that most other owners of nuclear liabilities will be Government Agencies and will probably be trying to make best use of their existing workforce to decommission their facilities. There has been very little decommissioning work won by UK companies in foreign markets to date. While the levels of expenditure on the world decommissioning market may be very large the amount of money that will be available for businesses in Caithness will be relatively small.

  10.  The Highland Council also has a responsibility for the economic development of the area. I wonder do CASE and the Highland Council work well together. The minutes of the North Highland Local Economic Forum highlight some areas where there is cross fertilisation between the various development organisations but it is hard to see where a clear strategic look at the future of Caithness is being taken and where action is being taken to make this happen. This is an important issue and perhaps it needs a dedicated team of people set up to develop and deliver a strategy for the future of Caithness.

  11.  I believe that a vision needs to be created for a future Caithness. We need to have some aspirations for what we expect Caithness to look like from an economic point of view in 15-20 years time as expenditure at Dounreay declines. We need to then take action to realise that vision. Some questions that could be considered are:

    —  Do we try to encourage more industry to Caithness? Should this be diverse or one major employer? Should we target the service sector or manufacturing? Is there proper marketing and selling being done? We have seen manufacturing businesses fail in Caithness because of a poor market understanding.

    —  What about a new power plant in Caithness. While this might be good because we have a workforce that can operate power plants we do have to remember that the electricity is not needed here and while in the past we had high numbers of staff operating nuclear power plants, modern facilities need much less staff. The Dounreay facility was, and still is, a high employer of staff not simply because of the power plant but because of the reprocessing and R&D associated with it.

    —  Is there value in trying to expand the tourism sector? Our part of the country does less well out of tourism than other areas in the Highlands.

    —  Alternatively do we simply plan to make Caithness a place to retire to?

  12.  To summarise it is time to take a longer term strategic look at the economic future for Caithness. As a layman it is not apparent that this is happening and it is also not clear that the current set of organisations dealing with economic development are organised to make this happen. Perhaps the day to day tactical issues like funding for training, funding for marketing and small new businesses needs to be clearly separated from longer term strategic development. Perhaps in the medium term experienced staff from within UKAEA and similar organisations could be utilised to assist with assessment and development of a longer term strategy. We need to be proactive in this area—not reactive.

The long-term strategy for the management of radioactive waste, in particular, intermediate-level waste

  13.  I don't believe that this should be dealt with as a parochially Scottish issue. It is an issue of national importance.

  14.  The letter attached to this memorandum details my recent response to the recent CoRWM public consultation exercise. In the main the Government is proceeding in a way that should give a good result but I believe that special steps should be taken to ensure that CoRWM (or other bodies charged with solving this problem) are properly and fully resourced with the correct level of people. In addition the timescales must not be dragged out and the focus must not simply be in intermediate level waste but on all the waste streams from the nuclear legacy.

  15.  If new capacity is needed by operators to store conditioned solid intermediate-level waste on site that results in a need for local storage then that should be encouraged.

How can the shortfall in energy output be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland's energy needs?

  16.  The question is very specific and relates to Scotland. Firstly the scale of the problem needs to be understood. A quick assessment of UK Government statistics indicates that for the year of 2002 we generated 49,555 GWh of electricity but we only consumed 33,680 GWh in Scotland. This difference is surprisingly close to the amount generated by Nuclear Power which was 15,863 GWh in Scotland. We exported 6,000 GWh to England and also exported to Northern Ireland. Therefore I suggest that we need to understand the problem. What will happen when Torness and Hunterston and switched off? What will the true impact be? As environmental regulations get tighter should we be more worried about Longannet and Cockenzie being switched off?

  17.  Does anyone actually understand what will happen as nuclear power plants are switched off? The DTI/OFGEM Joint Energy Security of Supply Working Group (JESS) looks at the security of supply nationally but doesn't appear to at a Scottish level—in fact for electricity Scottish data is currently not assessed. JESS only looks seven years ahead—this is too short given that the current policy is to allow the market to deal with the problem. I am sure that the energy position of the UK is best dealt with at a UK level and not at a Scottish level.

  18.  The UK Energy Policy is mixed up or non existent. This leaves the strategy to be driven by market forces. The issue is too important and the government must be in control. It cannot be left to the short term whims of the market and investors.

  19.  There is currently too much dependence on renewable energy and onshore wind in particular. Developers are only interested in being involved where there is money to be made. This is not a solution to energy problems. We also appear to be very dependent on imports of gas into the future from Europe and Norway.

  20.  More work needs to be carried out to develop an energy policy for the UK. First we fully need to understand the problem, understand the options available to us and then we need to develop a range of scenarios.

  21.  It is very likely that new nuclear build will be a part of a well developed UK energy strategy. This will be because from an economic and environmental point of view it will be better than the alternatives. The questions will be:

    —  Can we actually build new nuclear power stations? Will we be ale to secure Section 36 permissions? The answers will be positive to this if we can explain to the general public why this is the best option and the location is chosen wisely.

    —  Should they be built in Scotland? At present the answer would appear to be no, but there are undoubtedly viable locations in Scotland that could be considered. However, factors such as security of supply and transmission losses may dictate that Scotland is not the best location. On the other hand—if the infrastructure can cope with new nuclear build in Scotland—then why not?

  22.  If the UK planned new nuclear build in the near future then the options are limited to either a European Pressurised Reactors supplied by France and Germany—they are currently building one in Finland, or to an American Westinghouse design. In the longer term it will be likely that one of the reactor types being developed by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) programme will be chosen. Currently the UK Government only supports this programme in a very limited way. Perhaps it is in the long term interests of the Government to support this in a more significant way.

  23.  One of the key GIF technologies as based around a Sodium Cooled fast reactor—similar to the PFR currently being decommissioned at Dounreay. The UK is in danger of losing all its knowledge about this to other countries at best—or at worst simply losing the data gained from years of reactor build, operation and decommissioning. A decision is needed—do we preserve this knowledge or not.

  24.  At this stage the government should perhaps consider setting up a body dedicated to assessing the need and viability of constructing new nuclear plant and then moving on to implementing this if appropriate.

  25.  The newly formed Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA) must remain focused on showing that decommissioning can be done economically and dealing with the current legacy liabilities.

12 January 2005

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